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home : news : national news free January 20, 2019

1/9/2019 12:22:00 PM
In 2019, books on immigration conceived before Trump's rise are especially timely

NEW YORK (AP) — Not long before Election Day, 2016, Samira Ahmed completed the first draft of her novel, “Internment,” a dystopian narrative about the rounding up of Muslim-Americans.

As the news came in that Donald Trump had been elected, Ahmed received a text from a friend who had read the manuscript and feared Ahmed had written a work of prophecy.

“She said, ‘I hope you’re not Cassandra,”’ Ahmed told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.

In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted shortly before the shutdown, 49 percent mentioned immigration as one of the top five problems they hoped the government addresses in 2019. Only 27 percent mentioned immigration in December 2017.

“While current headlines give readers timely coverage of immigration, fiction offers deeper and more complex explorations of the issue,” says Laila Lalami, whose novel “The Other Americans” comes out March 26.

New fiction is set everywhere from Virginia to California and confronts the American Dream narrative of assimilation and upward mobility. Other works include Valeria Luiselli’s “Lost Children Archive,” which tells of young immigrants separated from their families, and Nicole Dennis-Benn’s “Patsy,” about a Jamaican woman’s discovery that the U.S. is nothing like what she had imagined.

“I think there’s been a real blossoming in novels about immigration,” says Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley, who cites such works as Jean Kwok’s “Searching for Sylvie Lee,” about a family of Chinese immigrants. “Publishers have really been making an effort to bring in a wider range of voices.”

Devi S. Laskar’s first novel, “The Atlas of Reds and Blues,” follows the disheartening experience of an American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants when she moves her family to an Atlanta suburb. She began the book before Trump was elected, but found its narrative fit all too well with the current time.

“We are all experiencing the current administration together,” Laskar says. “This story ends in 2010, but I feel like the seeds of what is happening started way back when.”

As several authors point out, their stories seem contemporary because the issues raised by the Trump presidency have been around for much of the country’s past, whether the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or the racist Immigration Act of 1924.

“All of American history leads up to what’s happening now,” Ahmed said.

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